HK in seven-try blitz as Sri Lanka wilt in the heat
The playing conditions were sauna-like but Hong Kong rose to the occasion by blowing away Sri Lanka 48-3 in their HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five encounter yesterday.
The decision to bring the game forward by one hour and start at the height of the afternoon sun backfired badly on Sri Lanka, who had no answer to Hong Kong's superb phase play, with both forwards and backs combining sweetly to run in seven unanswered tries.
The bulk of it went to the backs - flyhalf Keith Robertson and inside centre Lee Jones each grabbing a brace with left-winger Rowan Varty and substitute scrumhalf Tim Alexander also touching down - but perhaps the most deserving try of all went to loose forward Pale Tauti.
The Hong Kong No 8 had an outstanding game as he tirelessly dominated the field in both attack and defence to come up with a domineering performance which brought him the man-of-the-match accolade.
'I have never played in conditions like this before. It was unbelievably hot out there but the boys sucked it in,' said Tauti. 'Everyone did their own bit of the jigsaw and it all came together for us today.'
Fittingly, Tauti's try came right at the end with Sri Lanka gasping on the ropes. From a five-metre scrum, he kept the ball at his feet as the pack drove forward yet again before picking up and falling over the line.
It was a classic No 8's try, and Tauti was in his element. His cover defence was from the top drawer but it was his surging runs that had the opposition in all sorts of trouble.
Together with Nick Hewson and Mark Goosen - who arrived just a few hours before the game - the Hong Kong back row ruled supreme. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage had turned up hoping to see his second son, Yoshitha, an openside flanker, perform heroics. They were disappointed as it was the Hong Kong loose forwards who performed.
And it wasn't just the back row. Tighthead prop Nigel Hobler, recalled to the side to beef up the front row, gave a visiting team of men and women from his club, Hong Kong Football Club, much to cheer about as he dazzled in the heat.
Hong Kong led 22-3 at the break with Robertson - the other player to stand out in a gallery of superb individual displays - opening the scoring when he skipped through untouched from close range to score after good lead-up work by the forwards.
That set the pattern for the game. The Hong Kong forwards used the rolling maul well and driving fiercely set up multi-phase moves which quickly silenced the poor crowd with most people perhaps staying away due to the hot conditions.
'These are probably not conditions to play a rugby match in. People don't realise what both teams went through out there. It was draining humidity, it was unbelievably hot. Both sides suffered big time but all credit to our guys,' said coach Dai Rees.
'It was an outstanding performance. This is the biggest win since I've been involved with Hong Kong, and I think the biggest win for us in the Five Nations. With this win we can now look at finishing second, a place we deserve to be thanks to the hard work of the coaching staff and above all the players,' Rees added.
Hong Kong will have a bye next weekend before ending the tournament by hosting the United Arab Emirates on May 21.